Have you ever had a bad day and felt great about it? Have you ever gotten a promotion at work and thought “My life is really going down the toilet”? I don’t think so. What is it about good situations that make us feel great and bad situations that make us feel bad? Why do our attitudes change with whats going on in the world around us?
I know, it must be the situation itself. Every event must give off particles of positive and negative energy right? Good events radiate happitrons that collide with our brains and release stored amounts of Serotonin and we feel a flood of good feelings all day long. Bad events in this reasoning must then give off depressitrons that do the opposite effect. No wait, I forgot about wave-particle duality. Its waves of happiness and depression that are at just the right frequency to disrupt our brain waves and make us feel both….
No, no, no. This is all wrong. Events in our life don’t do any of those things. They are just random coincidences of actions and movement that sometimes affect us in a direct way, an indirect way or not at all. A car crash somewhere in the world doesn’t make us feel good or bad. Maybe if we read about it in the newspaper and its a particularly tragic collision, say a drunk driver and you have a personal history of this, we might pause and think about it. You might have empathy for those innocent victims involved but you move on rather quickly compared to those said innocents would. If every event in our lives effected us then that would go to say that every event in the world effects us (with the whole happitron/depressitron theory). But we know this is not the case because with all the billions of lives and trillions of events daily, we wouldn’t have enough brain capacity to get out of bed let alone live our own eventful lives. So what is it?
It all starts with us. In a previous post I noted the difference in your body when a gunman points his weapon at you in view. When the gunman is behind you and therefore out of sight, we don’t see any of the stress responses that had occurred when we knew he was there. It all depends on our perspective of the situation and this is the same for every event that occurs to us. Let’s take two diffent paths and discuss what I mean by this.
First the good:
A man lives alone. He goes to work at a job he hates and comes home to an empty house and eats food that he gets zero nutition from. He stays up late watching depressing documentaries and after a few hours sleep repeats the cycle. One day he is walking up the flight of stairs into his office building and notices his breathing is extremely difficult and when he finally reaches the top steps he is light headed. He makes his way to his office just barely and as soon as he turns to close the door his world goes black.
The man wakes up in the hospital and is told he suffered a minor heart attack. The doctor very straight forwardly tells him if he does not change his life he will die. A day later he is discharged. He goes home and writes out his plan. His diet needs changed, he needs to exercise more and he needs to avoid stress. Easy enough. He starts by buying some cookbooks and buying only whole produce and meats. He learns to cook with natural foods and limits the sugars, complex carbohydrates, and oils from his food. He cancels his cable and decides to take up yoga and buy some weights. He stretches and works out multiple times a week and is actually sleeping more soundly and for longer than he ever has before. After a few weeks he notices some changes. The stairs are easier to walk up. His skin is looking better and more colorful. He wakes up more refreshed and has more energy to get in the good breakfast he has been neglecting his whole life. He even notices that his work isn’t so bad anymore and that the old irritations seem rather petty in this light. He feels better and he sees his future as doing nothing but improving. He is ready to go. He is more driven to work harder and in turn feels better about what lies ahead. This gives him more confidence and more energy and general happiness. It turns into a cycle that feeds itself. The more he improves the better his outlook on the future becomes and the better he feels. Happily ever after, The End…
Now the bad:
The man wakes up in the hospital and is told he suffered from a minor heart attack. The doctor very straight forwardly tells him if he does not change his life he will die. A day later he is discharged. The man goes home and thinks about all the work he missed out on. He doesn’t know how he is going to catch up. Even if he does he thinks to himself “The boss will probably just give me grief about leaving him hanging for a couple days”. Making it sound like a joke while not caring about how he is doing after the heart attack. The man feels the company doesn’t do anything for him. Take Take Take until you drop dead. Which he almost did. He is too upset to eat so he goes to bed hungry but doesn’t sleep. He is too busy working himself up over the fact that he has no one who would have missed him if he were gone. He wakes up sluggishly and with his Folders coffee and a microwavable breakfast burrito containing nothing of nutritional value, makes the irritating morning commute to the dead end job he hates more than life itself. The life he now sees as running short with his heart attack. He feels he missed his opportunities and that it is too late to do anything about it now. All he can do is sit in his office with the buzzing fluorescent lights causing a slight twitch in his right eye. “Maybe I should’ve just of stayed dead” he says to himself. At least he would have gotten some good sleep finally…
We are creatures of momentum. When we start feeling good about what’s up ahead we get excited. That vacation we have planned energizes us whenever we think about it. On the flip side however, that public speaking conference you have to do for work becomes a knot of anxiety in your stomach every time you think about. Our feelings of the future directly affect our current energy levels and our current energy levels affect our outlook on the future. When we have energy in the present and a friend asks us to help them move we are more likely to say “sure, I’ll help you move Saturday.” Then the next day after a long grueling daily grind we are more “oh why did I say I would help him move Saturday, I am exhausted.” Neither thoughts nor days have any bearing on what our energy levels and happiness with be on Saturday, but one looks at the future event with a positive outlook and the other looks at it with dread. Each outlook then feeds the current feeling.
Our feelings are nothing more than chemicals being released in the brain and the brains changes in response. We look positively on future events and our brain releases good chemicals and we feel content. When we look negatively on future events our brain releases bad chemicals and we feel anxiety and worry and depressed. Good and bad chemicals have no meaning of their moral compass, chemicals are not good and bad by nature. This is just my way of explaining the emotions that those particular neurotransmitters are associated with.
So we now know that our outlooks change the way we feel and the way we feel changes our outlook. The wonderful cycle of emotional momentum. The best news of all is that we are in control of this chemistry experiment. Events have no effect on us emotionally. There are no happitrons and depressitrons. Our emotions change based on how we feel about those events. It may take practice to do the old saying of “stay positive” but with practice comes proficiency. We are all a walking chemistry lab and we are wearing the labcoats. Let’s see what can make today…